Maybe instead of wondering if the iPad will change the world, we should focus on how it might change our households. Families are already reeling from the changes brought on by new technologies and the ways they have impacted our sense of privacy, manners and even the basic ways we communicate and interact. If the iPad does go from "the gadget that everyone wants but no one needs," to "the device that we depend on to make our lives run smoothly," here are some thoughts on what this might mean for families.
Total Toy/Tool convergence.
The iPad promises to obliterate the line between toy and tool. For parents, the iPad further blurs the line between work time and personal time -- thirty minutes with the iPad means reading the newspaper, checking email, finishing the expense report, without having to boot up the company-issued laptop. Grandparents, finally have a computer that makes sense and won't crash by pushing the wrong button. For teens, it's the next step in the digital-social mash-up -- thirty minutes means updating your status, watching videos, buying music and texting -- all in a personal space that doesn't require mom and dad buying you a new phone. For grade schoolers, the iPad is a gaming platform and YouTube on a big screen. And, for the under five set, the iPad is for learning and fun.
Everyone shares the same iPad?
The iPad takes toy/tool convergence one step beyond even laptops and smartphones because it doesn't naturally belong to one person. Imagine, the iPad emerging from its jewel box all full of possibility with it's cool glass and single button. Each family member dreams a separate dream. "It's shiny," thinks the toddler. "Goodbye reading glasses," thinks grandma. "It handles well," thinks the midlife crisis dad. "Joneses eat your hearts out," thinks the ultra-competitive mom. And, "it's familiar but not tethered to mom and dad like the iPhone," think the kids. At some point, when everyone realizes they have to share one iPad a collective scream is likely to be heard: "IT'S MINE!"
Where do we go from here?
We are going to have to find some ways to make the iPad work for families. Here are some preliminary ideas about what we might do.
First, we should become iPadologists. If this is in fact, "the next big thing," we should watch closely how individuals and families use the iPad. We should try to hold off on knee-jerk reactions and, instead, get curious and engaged. Things will always go smoother if we determine where the limits should be set based on the reality of how individuals and families are using new technologies rather than basing rules around preconceived notions which may be wrong. This is particularly true with the iPad because many of the rules are yet to be written.
Second, we should pay close attention to moments when kids and adults get competitive around who gets to use the iPad. New gadgets in the house can create sibling dynamics -- even between parents and kids! If we all end up drooling for a turn, then it's going to be time to get some clarity around family needs. We should be looking out for opportunities to use the iPad to bring families closer together and these moments should be given top priority. Along the way we should be sure to encourage smooth hand offs and avoid moments of technology-separation-anxiety.
Third, we should always be on the lookout for technology creep, moments that were once reserved for quiet time or face-to-face interaction that are now being spent staring into a screen. This is especially important at bed times and meal times. The art of knowing when and how to disconnect is quickly becoming more important than being connected.
The bottom line is that if family life is going to benefit from the iPad it will be because the device creates moments of positive mutual involvement. Enter convergence and exit the days when parents and kids had distinct interests in toys. It's a new era when families have to get creative about how to be wholesome about awesome new technologies and also hold onto what was awesome about the wholesome days before the iPad.